A socially awkward fisheries expert reels in a spirited soul-mate in Lasse Hallstrom’s unabashedly feel-good confection, based on the novel by Paul Torday.
Directed with a light touch, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen wrings every last drop of sentiment out of its slender premise, proving that polar opposites attract – especially if it leads to a traditional happy ending.
Hallstrom is well served by his predominantly British cast.
Ewan McGregor hides his sex appeal behind grey suits and mournful eyes, while Emily Blunt is luminous as a high-flying career woman, presented with an agonising choice between two paramours.
Government boffin Dr Alfred Jones (McGregor) works for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office under boss Bernard Sugden (Conleth Hill), who is a mild nuisance to any pretty girl in the department.
Alfred is asked to strengthen Anglo-Arab relations by helping consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt) to realise the impossible dream of Sheikh Muhammad (Amr Waked) and introduce British salmon to the Middle East.
At first, Alfred rebuffs the idea and he returns to the drudge of his suburban life with wife Mary (Rachael Stirling), who appears to ration sex.
“That should do you for a while,” she tells her husband after one brief and unsatisfactory coupling.
When the Prime Minister’s potty-mouthed press secretary Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) catches wind of the Sheikh’s loopy plans, she sees past the impracticalities and focuses on the feel-good aspect of the story to distract attention from the recent bombing of an Afghan mosque.
She exerts pressure on Bernard to ‘persuade’ Alfred to work alongside Harriet and conceive a workable solution to the salmon problem. “If your sheikh wants to pour his money down the drain, why doesn’t he buy a football club like everyone else?” quips Alfred to Harriet, whose initial friction belies unspoken attraction.
However, she is dating Captain Robert Mayers (Tom Mison), who is serving in the Middle East.
When Alfred meets the Sheikh, he is won over by the statesman’s passion and thus begins a momentous journey of self-discovery.
Salmon Fishing In The Yemen is fluff but it’s beautifully framed and well-acted fluff to warm the cockles of a cynical heart.
McGregor and Blunt are an attractive pairing and Scott Thomas adds a delicious salty tang to the emotional syrup, savouring all of the script’s choice one-liners, including a barbed quip about Vera Lynn.
Pleasingly, there’s no emotional catharsis for this puppeteer from the corridors of Westminster – she ends the film plotting and scheming, completely untouched by the rosy glow of two people in love.
Hallstrom and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, who won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, will be hoping the rest of us surrender more easily.
STAR RATING: ***